ARCHBISHOP Chrysostomos was furious about the organised opposition and social media reaction to his plans to turn the Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios mansion into a Byzantine museum and lashed out against his critics on a television show on Monday. His main argument was based on the right to property and the church’s right to do whatever it pleased with its own.
Speaking on Omega TV, the Archbishop said: “The trust of the heirs was given to the archbishopric. If the descendants of Hadjigeorgakis’ wanted to give it to the Antiquities Department they would have done so. It is not the first time that many are eyeing and constantly speaking about assets of the church. This thing is very annoying for me.”
In theory he is right. The mansion is mostly owned by the church which legally speaking can use its property for any purpose it sees fit, but the church is not a private business or a public corporation and cannot behave as one. Likewise, the archbishop is not the church’s CEO or a shareholder who can use its property in any way he pleases, completely disregarding public sentiment.
The Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios mansion has been operating as an ethnological museum since 1988 when it was refurbished to offer an example of housing during Ottoman rule. It is as much a part of Cyprus’ history as the Paphos mosaics and Kolossi castle and should be preserved as such. It is not as if the church has run out of premises to turn into religious museums. Chrysostomos has decided to turn two churches in old Nicosia – Ayios Ioannis and Ayios Antonios – into church museums.
The lease for the mansion may have expired, but this is no justification for the church scrapping the ethnological museum, which is one of Nicosia’s few historical sites, because the archbishop has decided to assert the church’s property rights over the building. The mansion has become public property, it is a major tourist attraction and is now part of the capital’s cultural heritage, which is why it must be preserved. No archbishop should be able to arbitrarily turn it into something else by citing property rights.
It is encouraging that there is unified opposition to the archbishop’s appallingly misguided plan – the government, opposition parties, civil society – and it is already looking unlikely that he will be able to go ahead. If he is not persuaded to drop this foolish idea by the public’s opposition, the law could be used to stop him. Or perhaps someone could explain to him the value of corporate social responsibility, which most big businesses embrace. The church would do well to embrace it as well.